Pizzaright in the UK

by on October 19, 2006 · 4 comments

Mike Masnick points out that the British are now considering extending copyright to 95 years, as the United States did in 1998. I’ll heartily concur with Mike’s analysis:

On archiving, he brushes off the concern of the library by suggesting that the copyright owners can do a fine job archiving everything on their own, and that there’s really no need for librarians to worry about such petty little things. “The British Library isn’t the only archivist in town. The idea that if it weren’t for the British Library no archiving would be going on is false.” However, if it’s a really big concern, he might, possibly be willing to carve out an exception. Of course, he’s missing the fact that these firms are archiving content only based on commercial viability, leaving plenty of other works out in the cold. A large part of the debate is over how to archive “orphan works” that have no direct commercial value, but cannot be copied due to copyright restrictions. Because commercial entities are only interested in content that has commercial value, they’re not archiving the rest of it. This is just one of the reasons why orphan works laws make sense.

The bigger issue, though, is copyright extension, and again, the guy from BPI is really far off-base. The purpose of copyright is to put in place the incentives for people to create creative works that they might not have done otherwise. Once that work is created, it’s hard to see any reason to increase the incentive. After all, the work has already been created. However, here, the BPI representative totally twists the purpose of copyrights around: “Copyrights are the asset bases of British record companies. If we enhance the asset base, we can go on to make other, more exciting entrepreneurial investment decisions. If we increase the length of the term, we increase the value of these assets.” …That’s not the purpose of copyright at all.

Indeed it’s not. This is a good example of Ed Felten’s Pizzaright Principle. More fundamentally, it’s an example of Frederic Bastiat’s broken window fallacy in action. Obviously, if you change the law to enhance the profitability of a particular industry, that industry may invest the increased profits in beneficial ways. But that money isn’t created by the government–it’s taken out of the pockets of consumers who would otherwise have spent the money on other products like iPods or tennis shoes. Apple or Nike are just as likely to invest their increased profits in beneficial ways.

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